Ikebiri, Bayelsa Community Boils Over Agip’s Unending Oil Spills

473 views | Akanimo Sampson | July 25, 2020

The people of Ikebiri in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area of Bayelsa State are at loggerheads with Nigerian Agip Oil Company (NOAC), a subsidiary of the Italian oil major, Eni.

According to Ikebiri Development Foundation (IDF), an elite group of the Ijaw community, the oil company is allegedly insensitive to the plight of its host communities. They are pointing at a recent devastating oil spill in the area caused by alleged equipment failure.

Ikebiri community comprises several villages. Its main economic activities include palm-wine tapping, canoe carving, fishing, farming, animal trapping and traditional medical practices.

On April 5, 2010, an oil pipeline operated by Agip burst 250 metres from a creek north of the troubled community. The spill affected the creek, fishing ponds and trees essential to the local community, damaging the livelihoods of the local community.

On April 11, 2010, a joint inspection visit led by the Italian oil major cited “equipment failure” as the cause of the spill, for which the oil firm was liable. Agip operates seven wells and eight pipelines with several flow lines in the area.

The leak was, however, closed, and the surrounding polluted area of bush was burnt without the consent of the local community.

This is common practice, but is an inadequate, dangerous and polluting method for cleaning up oil in the Niger Delta, Nigeria’s vastly polluted oil and gas region. No other clean-up has taken place since.

Ikebiri community has been engaging in discussions with the oil corporation for emergency relief materials and compensation. An initial payment of N2.00 million (around €6,000 at 2017 exchange rates) was made to the community for relief materials.

To date, the community has received no compensation for damages as a result of the spill. An initial offer of N4.5 million (approximately €14,000 at 2017 exchange rates) was rejected by the community as insufficient, and the oil firm has since discontinued discussions with the community regarding compensation. 

A local resident, Emilia Matthew, said: ‘’I am sick and we don’t know what to resort to when experiencing illness. Fishing, which has been our means of livelihood is now threatened; it is no longer productive due to the river being polluted by oil spills.

‘’The fish in our fish ponds in the swamps/bush too have all been killed by crude oil. So, we have lost our fish ponds. The vegetables we plant within the community, some of which are medicinal and we use in treating ourselves are also affected by crude oil. — What happens now?’’

Piqued, the community through their lawyer in Italy engaged in good faith with both Eni and Agip, including a meeting in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital. But despite repeated requests to have their need for compensation and clean up addressed, no offers of clean-up or satisfactory compensation have been made.

The community and their lawyer accordingly decided to take their case to Italy. This case is unprecedented in Italy, since it’s the first instance of an Italian company having to face justice in Italy for its actions in destroying the environment overseas.

Environmental rights advocacy actors say it will help end the impunity from justice that the Italian oil major has enjoyed and offers hope to others who have suffered damages as a result of pollution from oil wells or pipelines operated by Agip.

The foremost environmental rights group, Environmental Rights Action (ERA) that doubles as Nigeria’s wing of Friends of the Earth is supporting the community in taking their case to court in Italy.

ERA has been working to end the destruction of oil pollution in the Niger Delta since 1993 and support communities to highlight the destruction that the industry has caused to the health, livelihoods and environment.

Spurred, Friends of the Earth Europe is supporting ERA in their work with the Ikebiri community and has supported it in the struggle to end oil pollution in the Niger Delta and their efforts to get justice from the oil industry for many years.

Friends of the Earth Europe is also working with the Environmental Defender Law Centre to support this case. 

Gingered by the rights groups’ support, the community launched a legal case against the Italian oil giant in Italian courts, seeking clean up and compensation for damages from an oil spill which has affected their community.

Ikebiri monarch, the plaintiff, supported by ERA and Friends of the Earth Europe is calling for adequate compensation and clean-up of an oil spill dating back to 2010, which is yet to be addressed. Agip is responsible for the spill, caused by equipment failure.

Despite several attempts by the community to obtain compensation and clean up from the company, Agip has failed to adequately deal with the community’s concerns and the community has no choice other than to seek redress from the courts.

The community is praying for damages using the Agbara vs Shell case where the court decided the community were entitled to compensation of N39,159,000 per hectare as a benchmark. Using this figure, the community is seeking damages of N689,198,400, approximately € 2.00 million.

Agip claimed the polluted area is nine hectares. But, a survey carried out by an expert indicates that the polluted area is much wider, at least 17.6 hectares while pollution has been found as much as 2km away from the site of the spill.

It is time to end impunity and ensure that those with the real power to ensure an end to the neglect of oil infrastructure are forced to take action. In addition, the plaintiffs have not brought their case to a Nigerian court because of lack of access to justice, and poor enforcement in Nigeria, even in the event of a legal victory.

For example, on November 14, 2005, the Benin Judicial Division of the Federal High Court issued a judgment confirming that gas flaring violates the right to life and dignity of a person. The court ordered the defendants, the Anglo-Dutch oil and gas major, Shell and NNPC to take immediate steps to stop gas flaring in the community.

To date, this judgment has still not been enforced. 

Oil extraction has been taking place in Nigeria since the 1950s. Decades of oil spills and gas flaring continue to leave a vast legacy of destruction, destroying the health, the livelihoods and the environment of the peoples of the Niger Delta.

This oil region is the 5th most oil-polluted place on the planet with the equivalent of 50 Exxon Valdez’s already spilt by 2006 and more spills every week.

In 2011 the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) published a study of Ogoniland, and found that the people of Ogoni have “been living with chronic pollution all their lives” that soil, and water from which people drank, were severely contaminated and that clean up would take 25 to 30 years.

A similar report has yet to be carried out in Bayelsa, where the Ikebiri community is located. Their plight has yet to be comprehensively recorded.

In the meantime, speaking in Yenagoa, the Bayelsa capital on Friday,  Chairman, Board of Trustees of the Ikebiri Development Foundation, Timiebi Kiyaramo, regrets that since the major and devastating oil spill from Agip’s 10” Tebidaba/Clough Creek pipeline occurred in the first week of June, 2020, the company had not bothered to respond to the plight of the people, particularly women,  the elderly and children and other vulnerable groups whose source of livelihoods have been affected by the oil spill which the company also confirmed to be caused by its equipment failure.

According to him, the recent oil spill in Ikebiri has affected both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems in the area, pointing out that the effects of environmental pollution caused by petroleum, has become a source of great concern to Kingdom because petroleum hydrocarbons are toxic to all forms of life, just as they could become harmful both to aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems.

Adding, he said the oil spill has contaminated marine habitats with serious environmental consequences which the company was not bothered about due to their usual insensitivity towards their hosts in the Niger Delta where it has operated for several decades.

“Because marine oil spills can have a serious negative economic impact on coastal activities, as well as on those who exploit the marine resources, communities in Ikebiri are at risk of the likely consequences that come with oil disasters and therefore there is urgent need to anticipate these negative consequences and prepare for them not be caught unawares as a people.

“This is because of the serious impact of oil spills on marine life, as well as on people whose careers rely on the exploitation of these marine resources. Our people are predominantly farmers and fishermen and women. With the prevailing situation caused by this devastating oil spill, our farmlands and fishing activities have been seriously affected without any remedy in sight.

“Additionally, marine life will be affected even during clean-up operations apart from the physical damage to the habitats in which plants and animals live in.

“Petroleum marine fuel spills, which result from damage of equipment like the present case, caused equipment failure and various other industrial and mining activities, are classified by experts as hazardous waste, often considered to be the most frequent organic pollutants of aquatic ecosystems.

“IDF, therefore, frowns at this obvious insensitive manner Agip is handling the oil spill matter. We call on Nigerian Agip Oil Company quickly to assess the impact of the damage on economic activities of the affected communities and respond accordingly without further delay by sending relief materials along with a medical team and support the people with fishing gear and seedlings, while we patiently wait for the outcome of official roundtable negotiation over the unfortunate incident which was attributed to equipment failure.’’

Continuing, he said eight Ikebiri youths were shot dead on April 19, 1999, while on their way to attend a meeting with the then state commissioner of police in Yenagoa, by armed escorts accompanying a maintenance crew of Agip.

“We want to use this medium to call on NOSDRA and the Bayelsa Ministry of Environment and all other relevant government agencies to prevail on Agip to do the needful to forestall a crisis situation in the area”, Kiyaramo said.

The accused oil company commenced activities in Nigeria in 1962, and has been active ever since in hydrocarbon exploration and production as well as power production. It has two other subsidiaries – Agip Energy and Natural Resources (AENR), and Nigerian Agip Exploration (NAE), which concentrate on its activities in the shallow water and deep offshore areas.

 

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